Assembly District 6, Long: Education, road funds top borough challenges

Posted: Thursday, October 02, 2003

The toughest challenge facing the Kenai Peninsula Borough continues to be how to contribute locally to education without running afoul of state and federal limitations on local funding, said Ron Long of Seward, candidate for Assembly District 6 seat.

"Teachers versus football" is not a choice he wants to face come budget time, he said.

Efforts to fund education "outside the cap" have met with some successes, but schools continue to struggle with reductions in state dollars, putting the issue in the forefront for the borough assembly.

Another challenge, Long said, is the change that could be coming in the way the state funds road projects. Proposed revisions to the Statewide Transportation Improve-ment Program (STIP) could require that municipalities like the Kenai Peninsula Borough pick up the state's match of federally funded road projects, or alternatively, assume ownership and maintenance responsibilities for constructed roads if the state pays the match.

In June, $8 million was cut from the state's pot of $44 million set aside as matching money for federal highway dollars. Municipalities may be asked to make up the $8 million, according to Jeff Ottesen, acting director of statewide planning for the Alaska Department of Transportation and Public Facilities.

The DOT currently is taking comment on those proposals and will through Sept. 19. The cost to the borough could be stiff, and the borough should comment, Long said.

"At least we should have some input on it," he said.

Long said his first three years on the assembly have been challenging, rewarding and educational. Armed with that experience, he said he thinks he can do a better job for his East Peninsula district and for borough residents in general.

Three years from now, the borough should still have a healthy fund balance, predictable revenue streams and be able to fund programs at a level desired by borough residents, he said.

That hope will have to find a way to live with future cuts in state aid. Gov. Frank Murkowski has proposed another $250 million in cuts in fiscal year 2005.

Among other things, Long said he's worried that cuts could mean fewer Alaska State Troopers covering the unincorporated borough. That begs the question whether the borough should step up and assume police powers. That's not an easy one to answer, Long said.

"I don't see how we could do it without (adding) judges and courts," he said.

Long said he doubted the state would be willing to accept the added caseload arising from a municipal police force in the superior court system, however, and creating a municipal district court level would be costly.

"I don't have a handle on what that cost would be, but I doubt we could afford it. Fines and penalties are not going to cover it," Long said.

Almost everywhere one looks departments and agencies that had depended on state funding are facing the same issues as state dollars dry up.

Long said he's concerned that the borough stepping up to assume the responsibilities for various functions as the state withdraws is just the kind of "enabling behavior" that makes it easy for state officials to hand municipalities unfounded mandates.

"It may be the immediately responsible thing to do, but it is also, in a way, irresponsible," he said.

Long, 52, has lived in Seward for 14 years. He has served on the assembly since 2000 and was a member of the Seward Port & Commerce Advisory Board from 1993-2000, chairing that board from 1995 to 2000. He is director of the Qutekcak Shellfish Hatchery and works for the Qutekcak Tribal Council. He also owns Ronald E. Long Marine Surveys and has been in business 12 years.

He is a member of Rotary, vice president of the Seward Chamber of Commerce and a member of the Society of Naval Architects & Marine Engineers.

Long is a high school graduate. He is married to Tye Long.

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